Habana hopes Boks build on White legacy

Springbok World Cup hero Bryan Habana believes South Africa have been given a great inheritance by departing coach Jake White.

This Saturday sees White, barely a month after masterminding the Springboks’ march to the World Cup title in France, coach South Africa in a full international for the final time when his side face Wales.

It will be one of the last acts of a four-year reign that began following South Africa’s quarterfinal exit at the 2003 World Cup and the ensuing controversy over then-coach Rudi Straeuli’s pre-tournament, military-style training camp.

”He has taken us on an unbelievable journey,” Habana, whose eight tries in France equalled the record for the most at one World Cup set by New Zealand wing Jonah Lomu in 1999, told reporters on Wednesday after White had announced his team for the Millennium Stadium match.

”Jake brought us back from the depths of despair in 2003 and put a few traditions back into place,” Habana, named as the International Rugby Board’s Player of the Year following his World Cup displays, explained.

”He has left the Springbok team in a better state than he received it. One of the most important things Jake brought back was the ethics.

”In the Springbok code of conduct, it says you always put the Springbok team above your own ambition, and that was something every player involved over the last four years has stuck to and believed in.

”It is something so special, and something I would not like to see lost in the future.”

Bulls flyer Habana (24) added: ”Jake picked me when no one knew who I was. He backed me through an up-and-down 2006 and I was able to pay him and the team back in 2007.”

Habana’s words were echoed by World Cup-winning captain John Smit, one of nine survivors set to be involved come Saturday’s kick-off from the team that beat England 15-6 last time out in the World Cup final in Paris.

The hooker, who has been released by club side Clermont Auvergne barely two weeks after joining the French side, said: ”From the start, we really felt he was bringing structure and an ability for us to turn things around and take the Springboks to where they belong.

”The repayment was being able to fulfil the expectation he had himself and the expectation he put on us in terms of being able to win the World Cup this year. This game, hopefully, will be a celebration of what Jake has given to South Africa for the last four years.”

Worn down by butting heads with politicians, the final straw for White came when administrators re-advertised his job while the World Cup was in progress.

His team for what will be his last Test (the Springboks play the Barbarians in a non-cap international at Twickenham a week on Saturday) also includes several other World Cup final starters in Jaque Fourie, Francois Steyn, CJ van der Linde, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger and Juan Smith.

The only Test debutant is Natal Sharks number eight Ryan Kankowski. But injury and absence have deprived White of major players such as fullback Percy Montgomery, half-backs Butch James and Fourie Du Preez, number eight Danie Rossouw and lock Victor Matfield.

White, linked with several jobs, including the position of England coach, but who is now set to take a break from rugby, said: ”It looked like it might be a bit of an inexperienced team, but there is enough there for us to feel confident we can get a result.

”I am very content about where we are as a group. The brief when I took over as coach was that we wanted to be world number one and world champions, and I’ve been lucky enough and privileged enough to be part of it.

”It’s great for me that it [final Test] is in a massive stadium like the Millennium Stadium and in a rugby country like Wales.” –Sapa-AFP

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Julian Guyer
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